What are the pro and con arguments regarding the legalization of marijuana? 

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The arguments regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana are in flux right now, since two states have recently declared marijuana a legal substance. Everyone is watching what happens to see if all of the arguments on both sides of the issue are borne out by the experiences of these states. 

It has been too short a time to observe any long-term effects of this legalization, so until those become available, the tried-and-true arguments shall prevail. Here are some of them, in no particular order.


  • People have the freedom to use/own many other substances which are potentially harmful (such as cigarettes, alcohol, or even a vehicle), and marijuana should be considered as one of those. 
  • Decriminalizing marijuana means the substance will be subject to regulations which will make the product safer. In other words, people who produce this substance are subject to the health and safety standards presumably set by the FDA; those who do so will face penalties and their dangerous product will be removed from the marketplace.
  • Decriminalization would dramatically decrease the number of people whose lives are impacted by drug arrest records.

The FBI web site posts the number of marijuana arrests since 1996 to 2012 at 12,318,682. 

  • Keeping marijuana illegal will not keep it from being sold and consumed. Society is fooling itself if it thinks that making something illegal means it does not exist or that people are not both selling and buying it. 
  • Treating marijuana as any other drug or product not only makes the product safer but generates revenue for the country (or at least the states which legalize it).

CNBC.com (2010) estimates [the legalization of marijuana nationwide] to be a $40-billion-a-year market.

  • Those who are underage will not have legal access to marijuana. Now they are a primary target for many drug dealers.


  • Legalizing marijuana will create more users, not fewer. Easier accessibility generally results in an increase in use.
  • Marijuana does have negative side effects, including addiction. It stunts brain growth and activity as well as impacts the hearts and mental health of consistent users. It damages the user's lungs and is dangerous to a fetus when used by pregnant women. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports:

Additionally, because it seriously impairs judgment and motor coordination, marijuana contributes to risk of injury or death while driving a car. A recent analysis of data from several studies found that marijuana use more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident. 

  • Drug use affects more than just the user (i.e., children, families, co-workers, companies, communities, countries).
  • Legal acceptance of this drug can be read, especially by young people, as acceptance of all drugs.
  • Research indicates that marijuana is, indeed, a gateway drug which can lead to more significant drug use/abuse.
  • Marijuana is still an illegal drug according to the federal government, so banks who do business with marijuana businesses are clearly participating in an illegal activity.

The truth is that the primary argument for decriminalization is medical, and there is some validity to that. The reality, as seen in both Colorado and Washington, though, is that people simply want the freedom to do what they want. Of course there will be fewer arrests if the substance is legalized, but that does not mitigate the harmful effects of using this drug.

Consider each argument carefully, weighing both the freedoms and the costs of this measure. 

StephanieRR | Student

One intriguing possible plus of legalizing marijuana concerns a different part of the same plant type. Marijuana is a member of the genus Cannabis Sativa, and another member of this group is hemp. It has been  illegal to grow hemp in the U.S. without a license from the DEA since 1970 when it, along with marijuana, was classified as a "Section 1" drug. Today the U.S is the only developed country that classifies hemp as a drug rather than a crop. Legalizing marijuana would possibly open up the debate for legalizing hemp, because if the flowers of cannabis are no longer illegal, why should the rest of it be? This would be wonderful because of all the incredible uses of the hemp plant. It can be used to make anything from beer to paper to clothing. 

I also wanted to take a moment to wonder at the worry that legalizing marijuana will create more users. There are plenty of people who use it illegally, and it's not a difficult drug to obtain. Apart from the type of person who has always wanted to try it but refuses to break the law, even at a friend's house or their bedroom or any other private space, anyone actually interested in using it will easily be able to do so with or without the law behind them. I feel like legalizing marijuana wouldn't open the floodgates for new users but would mostly affect the people who have already been using it. Plus, legalizing it would mean it can be talked about more, which will help people discern the myths of the drug and also take away the "rebellious" or "mysterious" aspect of it. New users just seems like an odd thing to fear, especially when there's the argument along with it that illegality is not that big of a deterrent.